Born Monster or Insane?

It is an age-old question, one that has occupied our minds since the beginning of time: 

What makes us tick?

For a very long time now, I too have been wondering about this.  What makes people do or say the things they do?  What makes us handle situations different?  What makes one person look at a situation, learn from it and let it go, while another brood over it for years to come, allowing it to fester and grow a black cancerous hole in their soul?

Before I carry on, I do not mean to step on any toes.  I do not say that these things are only done by men, and I am well aware that women are also in the wrong.  Men, however, are more prone to violent crimes and have thus become the target of my study.  Apologies to any male reader offended by this post.

In searching for this answer I have, sort of, turned the people I encounter into “test subjects”, looking for inconsistencies, looking at reactions, expressions and words.  I find it fascinating how two people can react so very differently when presented with the same situation.

“We are all born into genius” says Robin Sharma.  We are all born with a clean conscious, a mind to be filled, a personality to be shaped.  Where does it go wrong?

(Disclaimer: The following are all still on trial, thus the actions are “alleged”)

In the small town of Bredasdorp, Anene Booysen goes out for an evening of fun with her friends.  The next morning she is found raped and brutalized, left for dead at the side of the road.  Despite all efforts to save her, she dies in hospital, but not before identifying one of her attackers. It was done by young men known to her and her family.  How do you dismember a girl you know, rape her and beat her senseless?  Was it drugs, alcohol, insanity?

A 16 year old boy shows up at the police station, panic stricken.  He had just escaped a horrible attack on his family: his mother, father and sister murdered.  Forensics shows that the sister had been raped too.  Forensics also indicates that he did it.  How do you kill your parents, rape and twice shoot your sister?  Was it for the R23 million inheritance or insanity?     

A hero to millions around the globe, Paralympian, Olympian, Oscar Pistorius fatally shoots his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day.  The world recoils in shock; surely it must be true that he mistook her for a burglar!  But as the bail hearing proceeds, seedy details about his past emerge, the picture and the story just does not add up.  Was it jealous rage; was it insecurity stemming from his disability or insanity?

The Boston Marathon ends in a manhunt, bombers have targeted the race.  Again America is under siege.  Days later two brothers are identified.  Their families are devastated, “they must have been framed” they say.  The wife of the older brother says she never had any idea that he was involved with extremists.  The younger brother is described as a gentle “walking angel” by all who knew him.  How does one person influence another that much?  How does one person turn from an angel to a murderer?  Insanity?

Johan Kotze sees his ex-wife with another man and looses the plot completely.  He arranges for 3 men to rape her, he tortures her for hours, turn screws into her breasts before cutting them off, murders her son, because he loved her and can’t stand the thought of losing her to another man.  He loves her!?!?  It makes me sick!  Is it psychosis, jealous rage or insanity?

Some more stories from people I spoke to:

A girl is forced to eat an entire pot of green beans (and nothing else), simply because she did not cut the pieces small enough.  It may seem a small thing to you, but the abuse that went with it will stay with her forever.  A lesson in cooking or insanity?

A man goes into a rage because his wife forgot to buy something, smashes the house and beats her senseless.  The next morning he wakes up in utter shock: what happened here? He cries like a baby, stunned in disbelief: he would never have done that?  An excuse or insanity?

A paedophile befriends children or families with children, he is the friendly uncle next door who always has a kind word and sweeties in his pocket.  Behind curtains he drools over child porn, waiting for the right moment to make his move, lure them into his trap and destroy their future.  A treatable disease or insanity?

A man goes out to find a girl then rapes her.

An alcoholic or drug addict goes on a binge and spends his entire month’s earnings over a weekend.  He goes home and mentally, physically and emotionally abuses his wife and children.  The next morning he laughs it off, saying that they should know by now that he never means of the things he says or does when he is drunk.  A chemical imbalance created by substance or insanity?

You will not have to search very far to find more stories like this.  This I can guarantee you!

I have always wished that I can sit down with a serial murderer or rapist and have a good heart to heart over a cup of tea and some biscuits, maybe ad some truth serum in there.  No nonsense, no lies, no mind games – just the truth.  To truly understand another person’s mind, what an accomplishment that will be.

Seeing that I am not able to do that, I settled for reading Insanity – My Mad Life by Mickey Peterson aka Charles Bronson.  Fair advance warning:  this book is not suitable if you are under 18, squeamish, faint hearted or anything like that.  I enjoy a good horror movie and I love reading. In all honesty I can tell you that I have never struggled this much to finish a book.  It is so filled with anger, hate and violence that it leaves you sick to the core.  This is after all a biography by the most feared and notorious convict in the prison system.

Bronson describes himself as the King of Roofs (he made it to the roof of prisons 8 times during incarceration, causing £1,5 million in damages), Master of Sieges (during several sieges on the inside he took 11 hostages), Supreme Lord of Cuttings and Stabbings, Stylist of attempted Murder and Governor of Isolation (at the time of going of print, he had spent 24 of his 30 years inside in solitary confinement).

I pushed through and finished the book, simply because I hoped that it would give me the answer.  What made him do all these things?

At one point he, and all the others mentioned, were someone’s beautiful baby, a child with dreams, a teenager in love.  Where did it go wrong?

I am in two minds about this issue.

1. Can someone really be born bad? 

Is it possible for a chemical imbalance or misplaced gene to take away your ability to distinguish between right and wrong?  If this is the case it can be remedied with medication.  Or can it?  Is that not merely a temporary delay of the insanity that drives them mad in the end, as Bronson puts it?  Can psychological disorders be picked up by DNA scanning after birth and corrected with treatment?  Can it ever truly be corrected or is the inevitable simply delayed?  When questioning a person about a crime or anything, for that matter, how do we really know the truth unless we saw it with our own eyes?  Even then, how I perceive something and you perceive it will hardly ever be the same.  Our views and opinions are formed by past experiences.  The very convenient “I can’t remember that, therefore it could not have happened” or “he suffers for psychosis and therefore cannot be held accountable” – it is all just a very convenient excuse to me.

2. Is it simply a choice? 

No one is perfect.  We all have had our share of misfortune, some more than others.  I, for one, have had a pretty rough deal.  Does that give me the right to think the world owes me?  Does that give me the right to go about my life like a lioness caught in a bear trap?  NO!!!  I made a choice to learn from it, to grow, to be a better person.  I made the choice to forgive and not carry the hate with me.  If you do, it will consume you and slowly eat away at your existence until you snap.  Forget?  No, I will never forget, but I choose to think about the good and not be reminded of the bad.  What would happen if psychological treatment for traumatic events and life coaching were more readily available?  What would happen if we raised men with true emotion, rather than men with ego?

Bronson makes a compelling case for the idea of insanity and how the insane are created by the penal system.  This will be covered in another post.

Why is it happening more often?  Or have we just been blind?

What are the signs?

What do we look for?

What can be done?

What is the cause?

What makes these people lose the ability to stop a second before the act an ask themselves: what am I doing?

We live in a society where violence is at the order of the day.  Maybe it’s in the water!

I simply don’t understand it.

The search must continue.